Archive for ‘Books read in 2017’

November 4, 2017

September and October Reading

I only read one book in September. and did not want to isolate it in a post of its own, therefore this combined post.

 

Frances Hardinge, A Skinful of Shadows: I’m still thinking about this one, and I suspect I’ll have more to say about it in time, but at the moment I’m struck most of all by the fact that (if this is a spoiler it’s a very minor one), though we learn early on that the main character was renamed by her mother when the two of them went to live with her Puritan relatives, we never find out what that name was. This feels of a piece with the several name changes that Makepeace must put on/take off over the course of the book–as well as the (not a spoiler, really) number of people with whom she has to share her head. So often children’s lit is about asserting one’s selfhood against forces that seek to control or diminish it, and this book often does that (literally, for several of the characters); but Hardinge is also always good at dramatising the ways in which selfhood is contested and constructed and never as comfortingly innate as to make you secure about it (see in particular: Cuckoo Song)–so we don’t get to know Makepeace’s “original” name and feel like we have a hold on something important about her. And perhaps most crucially, we also see characters deliberately ceding selfhood out of choice or kindness. There’s so much here; it’s a genuinely rich book, and I’m looking forward to writing about it at length.

 

Osama Alomar, (trans. Alomar and C.J. Collins) The Teeth of the Comb and Other Stories: I’d planned to review this for Strange Horizons’s special issue at the end of October, but managed instead to catch some sort of flu and conjunctivitis (it  was not the best week) and there was no way I was also writing a review. I’m really intrigued by the ways in which this edition of the book (put out by New Directions) signals at these pieces both as poetry and as prose, and I think I’d want to read a lot more on the modern Arabic “very short story” before writing at length about the collection, but these stories are funny and bitter and clever, their imagery is startling and often SFnal, there’s a shifting between metaphor and real fantasy that wrongfoots you constantly. I felt out of my depth, but I enjoyed it a lot.

 

Ann Coburn, Glint: In early October I chaired a conversation between Ann and Chloe Daykin (the author of Fish Boy, which I write about here, and still plan to write about properly sometime). This book is two books–there’s a more mundane plot in which a girl searches through Berwick for a brother who has disappeared, and a fantastical one in which the character the siblings created in their childhoods goes on a quest, saves some dragons and meets a strange wild boy in the woods. The fantasy plot is dissatisfying, unsurprisingly; one’s always aware of it as only a metaphor. The realist narrative, on the other hand, genuinely works, and there’s a really strong sense of the town. Given that I’ve spent a lot of the last few years writing about fantasy landscapes and real space and the relationships between them, this was a really nice thing to read and not have to write about.

 

Patrice Lawrence, Indigo Donut: I was expecting to like this, given that I really enjoyed Lawrence’s Orangeboy earlier this year. I was a bit surprised, however, by how I ended up devouring it–with only occasional pauses to listen to Blondie songs, which form an important aspect of the plot. It’s a teenage romance (a genre that is by its nature usually going to be satisfying), but Indigo Donut is genuinely compelling on top of that. It’s also a sort of hybrid family story/mystery; the answers our characters find are difficult ones, and yet (again, as with Orangeboy) there’s a genuine sweetness about its relationships, how its decent people care about and for one another, that saves its more difficult moments from feeling gratuitous or marking it as That Sort Of Thing, and instead makes them just things that happen to these people.

 

Philip Pullman, La Belle Sauvage: I don’t think I’ve actually reread the His Dark Materials trilogy since 2006 or so, though in the interim I have read the two or three shorter books/short stories that Pullman has had published. Still, it’s been ages, and it was a surprise to me how much reading La Belle Sauvage, Pullman’s new novel set a decade or so before the events of the trilogy, felt like sinking into something warm and familiar. I read it while I was ill in bed, so I’m still not entirely sure if the weird, dream-sequence-y journey by boat that I remember as the second half of the book actually happened, but I want to believe. I want someone to write about this with The Faerie Queen, and I want them to write about it with The Buried Giant (and I refuse to be either of those people.)

 

E.K. Johnston, That Inevitable Victorian Thing: My comfort reading/guilty pleasure is the regency romance–and I use “guilty” deliberately here, not because I’m ashamed of my low-culture leanings, but because the genre as a whole is built upon an economics of slavery and empire, things that I can’t not be aware of. I read the books, but expect, and accept, that occasionally the horror of the whole enterprise will suddenly be present on the page in ways I can’t ignore for the space of my comfort reading. Johnston’s book seems to me, in part, a reaction to similarly ambiguous feelings about the genre–unfortunately, it strikes me as about the worst possible reaction.

The book is set in an alternate future, based on a world in which, according to the author, the British Empire made the best possible/least brutal choices at every point in its history, rather than, as often happened, picking the most violent. As a result, it has survived into a future where young people, reaching marriageable age, enter their genetic data into a computer which helps them to meet compatible matches. Besides the technology, the social structures that involve high status debutantes meeting eligible partners at a series of social events have remained largely unchanged since the nineteenth century–as have the clothes, though these high-tech corsets are apparently a lot more comfortable. Debuting this season in the Canadian social scene (still a part of the empire, obviously) are, first, the heir to the throne, disguising herself as a more ordinary young woman in order to escape the public eye; and another woman who is already in a relationship with an old friend. These two women meet and, in complicated circumstances (adopting fake identities online and in real life) fall in love; since, for some reason, it’s still unacceptable for the heir to the monarchy to marry another woman, they, and the abovementioned boyfriend enter into a discreet poly relationship for the good of the empire. There’s something about that particular relationship that genuinely does work for me; a group of sensible adults working out a system that they can all live comfortably with. But this is set against a background that really, really does not work. The whole thing feels like an attempt to render a beloved genre unproblematic, and while I can sympathise with that desire, the book does so by suggesting that empire is only bad when it’s at its most violent, and eugenics are only bad when they’re racially-motivated; that a benevolent empire could be a sort of wish-fulfillment.

It is not.

 

O. Douglas, Priorsford, Pink Sugar, The House that is our OwnThe Proper Place, The Day of Small Things, Jane’s Parlour, Taken by the Hand: I had such good resolutions for my holiday. We were driving around Scotland, and I took a bunch of things (academically relevant in some cases, just generally important in others) to read. I then spent the whole time reading O. Douglas books instead–I went to look something up and found myself reading almost all of her work within the week. I don’t really know what to say about these books, except that they were very satisfying, do some genuinely interesting things with character, and went very well with a hotel room by the sea.

 

August 5, 2017

July Reading

What I read in July–not counting all the Wolves rereads (see here), because I’ve read them before. As I say below, much of this month has been about comfort reading, and I’m a bit sick of it. I don’t wish to dismiss fluff as a genre (I love it and respect it), but I’m really looking forward to having the mental space to have most of my reading be properly chewy again. Anyway.

 

Mhairi McFarlane, Who’s That Girl?: I’ve been ill for a large part of this month, and needed all the comfort reading I could lay my hands on. This was good on the subject of manipulative men, though the thinly-disguised Game of Thrones plot made me cringe and the instagram bits made me wonder why everyone was so young. (This was also a thing I noticed with some of the actual YA mentioned below, but McFarlane’s protagonists are about my age, which suggests I’m very out of touch.) Still, enjoyable.

Daljit Nagra, British Museum: The Nagra collection of my heart will probably always be Tippoo Sultan’s Incredible White Man Eating Tiger Toy Machine!!!, because of course. British Museum feels … quieter, and less confrontational, but is also doing a lot of work. In particular it’s staking Nagra’s claim to the institutions he’s writing about–the lack of confrontation is because the poet’s adopting the voice of a collective “we” in ways that I can’t decide whether I find intriguing or a bit disappointing.

Becky Albertalli, The Upside of Unrequited: I’ve spoken at length about Albertalli’s first book, which is also deeply enjoyable fluff. This book feels like a natural sequel to that one–it’s good on very specific feelings (romance taking your people away from you, the sort of alienation that suddenly makes being around well meaning people whom you like a nightmare, body stuff). It’s good, I liked it.

Victor LaValle, Dietrich Smith, Joana Lafuente, Jim Campbell, Destroyer #3: When this series is complete I’m expecting to find that this issue was the one where most of the exposition happened. I’m still finding it difficult to believe that this story will be entirely resolved in the three remaining issues, but LaValle seems like he knows what he’s doing. The art continues to be gorgeous.

Julie Buxbaum, What to Say Next, Tell Me Three Things: On the recommendation of a friend to whom I’d mentioned reading the Albertalli. Both books are about teenagers coping with death, both very … teenage in the ways in which their characters are a) emotionally isolated b) the only people who feel this way (they’re not, of course, but the books commit totally to the feeling)  c) in the case of TMTT, unable to make sense of T.S Eliot’s The Waste Land (this is a plot point, and it’s to Buxbaum’s credit that she doesn’t artificially make these schoolchildren more erudite). Tell Me Three Things in particular gets a bit silly in its adherence to tropes–all the attractive boys in the book seem to be interested in our protagonist, and it’s annoyingly committed to retaining a dichotomy between nice girls in jeans and mean girls in pretty summer dresses. Still enormously satisfying to read.

July 2, 2017

June Reading

Looking increasingly wild-eyed, I assure you that when this thesis is over I will read some serious important books again. For now, this is what I read in June.

 

Sandhya Menon, When Dimple Met Rishi: This has been getting some positive buzz in the US as a romcom about arranged marriage, and friends and I have been rather side-eyeing it–not because we’re set against the concept per se (some of our best friends and family etc) but because this particular iteration of it seems to involve a) teenagers and b) manipulation by family (and c) being very clearly aimed at a not-Indian audience ["idli cakes"]). Having read it, I don’t think the book ever manages to deal with or explain away the parts of the story that feel inherently unpleasant; which might be fine in some circumstances (a lot of romance fiction does this, and it can be cathartic or have other uses for the reader) but I don’t get the impression that this book is positioning itself that way.  None of this, however, was as hazardous to my experience of the book as my dislike of its male protagonist, who you just know will be posting sanghi memes on facebook about three years into this relationship.

 

Thomas Burnett Swann, The Forest of Forever, The Day of the Minotaur: I went through a period, lasting several years, when I’d forget both author and title but suddenly feel a yearning for a particular story in a particular anthology and have to hunt it down. (It was Swann’s “The Sudden Wings”, in the Tom Shippey-edited Oxford Book of Fantasy Stories.) More recently, I’ve been promising myself that I’d read some of Swann’s work beyond that one story. I did enjoy these two books, but I suspect that was more to do with the novelty of reading a book entirely unconnected to either my thesis or to any current literary conversation. The Day of the Minotaur (which was published first) begins with some of the things that I liked about “The Sudden Wings” (our history, but with ancient remnants of a world of gods and monsters, sexy Other mythological creatures, siblings, generally charged interactions) and peters into something rather more domestic and less exciting, whereas The Forest of Forever, a prequel to the earlier book, doesn’t really add much except the revelation that the Minotaur was previously in love with his eventual girlfriend’s mother, and to make the sexy tree nymph character of the earlier book seen pathetic. I’ve seen commentary on Swann that describes these books as sexually charged, and while there are moments where that is true, the thing that I’m most struck by in these books is how profoundly uncomfortable they are with sex, even as they seem unable to move away from the idea of it. In “The Sudden Wings” these impossible impulses turned into something sharp and lovely; here they just … dwindle into not very much.

 

Victor LaValle, Dietrich Smith, Joana Lafuente, Destroyer #1-2: I’ve been planning for ages to read Victor LaValle, particularly since this great review of The Ballad of Black Tom (full disclosure: I edited the review, so am biased in the matter of its greatness. I’m still right though). I have read Frankenstein, over and over; I love it for its richness, and how much it offers a reader to play with. LaValle’s take on it, planned as a six issue series, is set in the present; the creature comes back among humans just as a (black, woman) scientist has begun to reanimate her child, killed in circumstances the reader hasn’t yet been explicitly shown. It’s probably a reductive way to look at LaValle’s career (he’s written a few novels and a short story collection) to focus on one novella and one comics series, but I get the impression that the two would bounce off one another really well–both repurposing classic works of horror to centre a grief and anger that are specific to an African American context. Thus far, Destroyer is upsetting and uncomfortable in all the best ways, and I’m looking forward to the next installment.

 

Kiran Millwood Hargrave, The Island at the End of Everything: I was underwhelmed by Millwood Hargrave’s first book, though I seem to have been in a minority in this opinion (it has won several prizes since I read it). Even at the time though, I thought there were things it did well–domestic details and (initially) sense of place, some startlingly good turns of phrase. It just didn’t cohere into one thing, or (this feels more important, because coherence is overrated) make me particularly care about it. It’s at times like this that one notices things like flaws in worldbuilding. This new book is set in our own world, or a version of it, and has a much clearer sense to me of what it wants to be–this version of the Philippines is not miles away from the “real” one, and the tone is fabulist rather than fantastical. Its concerns (families split apart, people waiting to die, found family, stigma) feel contemporary without being allegorical, and there’s a lot about it I like. Still not entirely to my taste–there’s a lot of capitals floating around in phrases like “the Places Outside” and the lyricism of the prose is a bit hit and miss–but that’s me, not it.

 

(I also managed to watch some movies this month. My thoughts on The Mummy are here; and I’m still trying to write about the sort of thesis-relevant Arthur: Legend of the Sword. I doubt I’ll be writing about Bong Joon-ho’s Okja, which seems a pity since it’s the most interesting of the three by some distance.)

June 6, 2017

April and May Reading

By the time I sat down to write about what I’d read in April, it was nearly June (it is now very much June). Thus: a two month reading post, in which, as you’ll see, not very much actual reading was done.

 

Alex Wheatle, Straight Outta Crongton: Naturally I’ll be writing about this at length eventually, but some preliminary (potentially spoiler-y?) thoughts: firstly, there’s something interesting going on with time here. Straight Outta Crongton has as one of its major characters Elaine, older sister to the protagonist of Liccle Bit, but it’s set a few years before that novel, when Elaine is in her mid teens and hasn’t yet met Manjaro. So it’s a prequel; that in itself isn’t unusual–but all its cultural references are current. So either all three books take place in a much tighter time frame than I’ve been assuming (and even then, considering Obama is the former US president in this book that can’t be all), or Crongton is outside time for the space of the books (much as it’s set in a place that isn’t real), or this is the current book and Liccle Bit and Crongton Knights are set in the future. It’s also in many ways darker than the first two books, and thinking about that both in terms of This Historical Moment and of Wheatle’s switch to a cast of mostly women is interesting to chew on. It’s good, which is the important thing.

Robin Stevens, Cream Buns and Crime: Because I read every Robin Stevens book about ten minutes after it becomes available, I’d also been buying her Wells and Wong short stories as they came out as ebooks. Cream Buns and Crime is in part a vehicle for getting those short stories into print, so that alongside the couple of new stories and other material in this collection, I was effectively getting a bunch of things I’d already got. Which is not an unusual thing for a publisher to do, but did make the book a bit underwhelming as a New Robin Stevens Book. The couple of new stories are good, though I’m slightly offended at the break from the Hazel-writes-the-novels, Daisy-writes-the-shorts tradition (one of these is a Junior Pinkertons story, and one is narrated by Beanie.

Hope Larson, Brittney Williams, Sarah Stern, Goldie Vance Vol. 1: The friend who lent this to me grabbed my interest by claiming it was a girl detective story, set in a 1950′s hotel, with a queer romance subplot–all of which made for a convincing argument. She did not mention the drag racing and cold war anxieties  (in retrospect, I ought to have expected both) or indeed the space! plot (which I did not expect). I don’t know how I feel about the comic’s choice to so completely identify with its heroine’s 20th century American fears of The Russians, however plausible that might be for this setting, but it’s still really charming.

Innosanto Nagara, My Night in the Planetarium: Nagara has featured in these monthly lists of reading before for his alphabet and counting board books, A is for Anarchist and Counting on Community. This is a few steps up as regards reading age–where the audience of A is for Anarchist was probably going to have to rely on parents for conversations about what “Zapatista” meant (which was one of the book’s strengths, of course), this has brief, accessible explanations of colonialism, censorship and recent history, woven into an autobiographical story. The art continues to be great, and I think Nagara’s achieving a really interesting balance between taking big things seriously and making them accessible to very young readers.

Rick Riordan, The Dark Prophecy: I don’t know that I have much to say about this, given that it’s mid-series; I did enjoy it, but was also a bit underwhelmed. The previous book set up a horrifying, complicated situation (wrt one character’s history of abuse, and her relationship to the man who abused her); the abuser is not in this book, which is nice; but the problem seems rather to have vanished for the duration of his absence, which is … hm. On the other hand, I’ve been reading these interconnected series since they started and there’s something so nice about (how to say this without sounding patronising? I don’t mean to be) seeing Riordan’s politics evolve, and seeing the books increasingly value particular forms of community and safety. (Also there’s a very good elephant.)

Elsie J. Oxenham, Stowaways in the Abbey; Strangers in the Abbey:  Readers of this blog know of my series-completionist side, which has led me to make unfortunate choices in the past. These two were the result of a visit to Barter books some weeks ago. I’ve read most of the Abbey series at some point or another, but my knowledge of the “retrospective” titles (see) is patchy. As with many fill in titles both of these are heavy on the foreshadowing (see for example Jen’s insistence that Joan is going to call her daughter Janice, and that said daughter will be May queen at school and will choose lobelias for her flower, or all the discussion of the marriageability of the various Marchwood brothers). While I was reading I was having thoughts about the level of emotion these books allow their characters to show (too much, she said disapprovingly)–it’s all heightened to a point that feels ludicrous to me, but then there are solid reasons for that, and if this was a genre other than Books For Mid-Century Girls they would probably be more clearly theorised. Still, these are extremely far from being among the better Oxenham books.

April 4, 2017

March Reading

March was a great month for buying books (far too many ebooks, trips to bookshops in London that I like, including what could so easily have been a final chance to go to New Beacon [but it wasn’t]), but it was also a heavily research-focused month so that I didn’t actually get that much read. I did get into the excellent habit of reading one story from Speak Gigantular before bed each night–the sort of civilised reading habit that I’ve always found rather awe-inspiring in other people. Apart from the Okojie, each of the books mentioned here I read in a day or so, so that I don’t feel like I did very much reading at all.

 

Patrice Lawrence, Orangeboy: I’ve written about this already; I think it’s great. It’s a gentler book than its premise (protagonist, who is a black teenage boy, is found with drugs on him and the girl who gave them to him has died sitting next to him) suggests, though always alive to the implications and the dangers of the situation. It’s also just … good; in its prose, in how it’s paced, in its random art references.

Irenosen Okojie, Speak Gigantular: As I say above, I read this in bits and pieces over a longish period of time. As a result, I don’t have a strong sense of the collection as a collection; I have a sense of how it all fits together, but need a more condensed reread to really be sure. But the individual stories that make up Speak Gigantular are frequently great, and weird, and upsetting. I’ve half committed to writing about this collection in more detail, so I’ll be returning to it very soon.

Chloe Daykin, Fish Boy: The blurb on the front of this is probably not one for the ages: “a talking mackerel changes everything …” Fish Boy (which is a lot better than that blurb) is about Billy, who loves the sea and David Attenborough, is terrified by his mother’s mysterious illness, and really wants to be friends with the new boy, Patrick. While swimming, he meets and grows increasingly close to a mackerel shoal, particularly to a fish he names Bob. I’m going to be writing about this at greater length, but I really liked its invocations of friendship and family and uncertainty and caring, its northernness, and its slight air of apocalypse.

Nicola Yoon, Everything, Everything: This book was absurdly readable–I started it on a lazy evening, read straight through and was done a couple of hours later. Its romance is over the top but satisfying, its use of various formats (text and email, but also backwards writing and medical reports and book reviews and creative dictionary definitions) good, the illustrations (by David Yoon) are nice. But (as I say elsewhere) there are also what feel to me like significant weaknesses–and the final act in particular feels less like the miracle the characters need and more like a cop-out.

Innosanto Nagara, Counting on Community: I read Nagara’s A is for Anarchist some months ago, and have since gifted it to a couple of friends with small children. I’m unable to say much that is useful about a board book, but this one is also great (though the numbers 1-10 leave less scope to play than the whole alphabet), the art continues to be good, there are several ducks, and I will also be passing this one on to actual children.

March 4, 2017

February Reading

I didn’t read very much in February. I spent the first week attempting to read or reread all of Frances Hardinge’s work for this, but for most of the month reading has felt impossible and I’ve only gotten through two books (both short, both kidlit, one of which I’d read before). Still, these are them:

 

Elinor M. Brent-Dyer, Jo To The Rescue: I don’t know that this should count as a book read in 2017, since I probably read it sometime around 1995. My copy (the same Armada edition I now have, with this technically accurate yet otherwise unattractive cover–pay particular attention to the face Margot Maynard (the child with red hair) is making) was lost in a house move at some point and I never found another, even as I managed to gradually re-build my collection of Brent-Dyer books. Recently a friend was selling some of hers, and I swooped in and demanded this one. Twentyish years on I like the holiday setting, in large part because it’s nice to see Frieda, Simone and Marie just hanging out and being adults together. I’m concerned by how amused everyone is about food-wastage (there’s still a war and presumably war rationing on; why is it hilarious that Joey burnt the eggs and spilt the milk and threw bacon at a burglar?). I’m also concerned by the ethics of doctor-patient relationships, and “I’ll introduce you to my pretty sister” as a method for reforming criminal harassers. In short: I have several concerns.

 

Catherine Johnson, Sawbones: I read this in preparation for reading Blade and Bone, Johnson’s most recent novel (and sequel to this). Sawbones is set (mainly) in late eighteenth century London, with a young apprentice surgeon as its protagonist. It’s a setting that you can do a lot with, and Johnson does–there are bodysnatchers and medical history and debates about ethics and reason (and whether stealing people’s bodies to dissect for Science! is okay) and that really satisfying sense of the interconnectedness of the world that you get from some historical fiction that takes the age of empire as its setting. Loveday, along with the mystery that drives it all, has links with the Ottoman empire; Ezra himself is mixed-race and from Jamaica; the girl he has a crush on has family connections with Holland–these (except the first) seem like relatively minor elements of the plot, but their presence changes the flavour of the narrative in what feel to me like crucial ways. Without being About empire, or About slavery, or About race, or About social history in general, it makes them crucial to its setting; the reader isn’t allowed Georgian London and coffeeshops and Ottoman intrigue unless they’re willing to also take slavery and dissected stolen corpses and empire. There’s a sense, as well, of young adults as actively participating in the intellectual life of their particular historical moment; and Ezra and Anna, his sort-of-girlfriend, have fundamental philosophical disagreements. Too often characters in children’s literature and YA seem to start from a position of political unawareness, which might make for an easy coming of age plot (character discovers injustice, gains knowledge, grows) but it serves to position that initial lack of engagement as normal. Sawbones doesn’t do that, and it doesn’t treat these characters as exceptional for their interest in the world.

Having said all of which, it seems a bit churlish to complain that the plot is rather lightweight and the characters (other than Ezra himself) rather thin, but those things are also true. I’m willing to forgive the book these things because it does so much that I like historical fiction to do (and because the blurb for the next book has the line “Ezra is not persuaded by the controversial theories of his French colleagues”), and I’m quite looking forward to the next.

February 1, 2017

January Reading

This month I attempted to re/read all of Frances Hardinge’s work, for this event, taking place a few days from now. In addition:

 

Arshia Sattar and Sonali Zohra (and Valmiki, I guess?), The Ramayana: I’ll be writing about this separately, but what really matters is that it’s a very pretty edition with stunning (by Zohra) art.

Sarnath Banerjee, All Quiet in Vikaspuri: I suspect that there are a few overlapping things between this and Banerjee’s The Harappa Files, which I haven’t yet read, and which I’m going to have to. I enjoyed AQiV more than I ever have Banerjee’s work before–it’s a little too keen to explain to you how capitalism and its depredations of the water table work, which is fine if that’s what the book wants to do but it’s not clear to me that it knows what its priorities are, and yet. It feels more of my city than I’d expected–I read it a couple of weeks after a morning (and subsequently an afternoon) at the Bhikaji Cama Place passport office where the book opens, and I live and have worked in the parts of the city that subsequently are the focus of the water wars.

Anushka Kalro, Rajasee Ray, Sankhalina Nath, Shubhangi Goel, Bhoomi’s Story–SPACE: This is part of a “first look science” series from Tulika books that tells the “stories” of particular things in the natural world–others include Boondi, Dhooli, Gitti and Beeji (or WATER, AIR, EARTH and EARTH’S SURFACE). This one, as the title suggests, is about earth-as-planet; its place in the vastness of space. I love Tulika’s children’s books, and the illustrations here are beautiful, with lots of unexpected little effects–the long, swirly lines that depict earth’s oceans, the dotted lines to show you Jupiter’s gases. It’s not clear to me which of the authors credited was responsible for the art; a note at the end mentions that the whole project was developed with Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology. I was briefly put out by being told that Bhoomi is “not too cold or too hot to live on” (child!me would have had some serious questions about “life” in this context) but then got to this, close to the end, and was won over:

(If anyone wanted to send me a copy of Dhooli, feel free.)

Chandrakala Jagat, Shakuntala Kushram, (trans) Rinchin, The Magical Fish: I’ve written more about this (gorgeous) book here.

Foz Meadows, An Accident of Stars: I write academically about portal fantasies, among other things, and one of my constant questions when I read modern ones (especially ones, like this one, that are trying so hard) is to what extent the genre can escape its imperial roots. The answer, unfortunately, seems to be not very much–even populating the secondary world with characters with a range of loyalties, races, sexualities, religions (only two religions, but still) doesn’t entirely mitigate the fact that the language with which we describe the fantastic encounter and the language with which we describe the colonial encounter are so inextricably intertwined–and while Meadows’s our-world teenaged protagonist is often confused and terrified by the situations she’s found herself in, there’s a certain amount of “only this person from another world could have seen/done this thing!” which is, again, unfortunate. But this is all, as I say, a genre-related issue rather than one particular to this book; and I do like the interactions between the adult characters and their various conflicting attitudes towards care of the young people who live with them. And there’s an extended sequence involving dragons. A problem that is particular to this book–it is, as I say, trying very hard wrt race and sex and gender and the result is sometimes rather crude, as if someone is explaining in a voiceover somewhere (and that was when Saffron realised the thing she was thinking was racist!). Mixed feelings, then.

Ashwin Pande, Arjuna Susini, Aditya Bidikar, Mistry, P.I #1: (Disclaimer: I know both Pande and Bidikar–the latter for several years–and am disposed to like things they make) This is a supernatural crime series where a pair of detectives (also a thing I’m disposed to like) consisting of a golem and a young man with a Mysterious Past investigate things in Mumbai and in this particular plot rescue some dogs. I’ll probably be reading the rest of the series, because it’s funny and I owe it my loyalty for rescuing the dogs, but as is usually the case when I’ve just read one issue of something, I don’t have deep insights to share.

Ayisha Malik, Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged: I only heard of this because of the embarrassing Jenny Colgan review of the book Malik wrote with Nadiya Hussain. So it’s nice that something positive came out of that mess? It’s not a perfect book–I enjoy our protagonist’s frivolity, but when she’s then paired with a much more seriously, very politically aware man there’s an uncomfortable undertone of him educating her about racism and islamophobia (his politics are, however, sometimes undermined and I suspect this is going to be explored a bit further in the sequel); the whole thing does feel overlong, and I’d really enjoy seeing some further recognition of Sofia’s own flaws beyond her seeming obliviousness to men who are in love with her. Having said all of which, Sofia’s frequent angsting about things like tone and stereotype and writing to a British audience within a book which, etc., is great: there’s nothing particularly radical about this sort of metafiction anymore, but it makes possible a particular sort of dwelling on the shape of the fiction that I really enjoy. Plus, it’s a nice, satisfying romantic comedy.

Eloisa James, Seven Minutes In Heaven: I’d almost forgotten that I’d preordered this several months ago, and then it showed up on the last day of the month, mere hours after I’d sent off a biggish piece of writing and really wanted a book to wallow in. I read James because I like series fiction and big, interconnected worlds–this particular book is even more series-y than most series books because it’s the sort of thing where lots of minor characters from the author’s earlier books show up and are married off, in ways that I would object to strenuously (tying up narrative threads is gross and immoral) if they weren’t in a historical romance. A thing I liked: the shifting between Eugenia’s fond memories of her late husband and our more ambivalent sense of him–there’s still an implied sense that we can see more clearly than she can, but it’s far more nuanced than the usual portrayal of this sort of thing. (It slackens a little when she and Our Hero have sex–till now, the book has been refreshingly cliche-free in suggesting that Eugenia’s husband was great in bed, that she’s a woman who has had a fulfilling sex life in the past, but convention demands that the hero of this book must obviously be better. Suddenly she’s the sort of heroine who is amazed by men going down on her, and it’s a shame.) A thing I didn’t like: for much of the book the characters are away from the nice, interconnected community that the series allows us to have, and it feels like a waste. (Also, why doesn’t Reeve have any friends?)